Ottawa Sun "Easy Pill To Swallow", Apr'01

by Ian Nathanson

The timing couldn't have been more appropriate -- the arrival of British trio Placebo, a mid-1990s resurgence in glam rock. Coincidence?

"It's funny and ironic how (glam has) been tagged on to us," bassist-keyboardist Stefan Olsdal says during a Toronto stopover to plug Placebo's latest CD, Black Market Music, samples from which can be heard when the band makes their Ottawa debut Saturday night at Oliver's.

"I mean, Brian (Molko, the lead singer) has got the jet-black hair, wore nail polish and donned a feather boa for one photo shoot. But me, I wasn't actually influenced by glam. Or by Goth either."

Sex symbol

Nevertheless, Placebo emerged in 1995 as three unique twentysomethings -- Molko, an American-born androgynous sex symbol with a voice as un-gender specific as his image; Olsdal, a 6-foot-2 towering blond figure from Sweden; and drummer Steve Hewitt, the lone Brit whose credits also include Breed and the Boo Radleys -- with an original glam-esquese sound that caught the attention of one of glam rock's pioneering enigmas, David Bowie.

Impressed by their remarkable verve and dexterity, Bowie invited Placebo to support him on several of his European concert dates in 1996.

"Him being a fan, that kind of gets back at that little voice inside your head that says you're crap. So that was a special chapter in our lives," says Olsdal, who proudly cites Placebo's appearances at Bowie's 50th birthday party in '97 and a live duet of Twentieth Century Boy at the 1999 Brit Awards as career highlights thus far.

Not to downplay Placebo's own fast rise to fame on the strength of singles Nancy Boy and Pure Morning, but it was the boys' roles in the 1998 film Velvet Goldmine -- particularly Molko's -- that played up to the band's image as pure glam sensations.

"People have this misconception that we're very depressed, dark people who don't know how to laugh at all. Which is far from the truth. We love to get up people's noses and slightly exaggerate what we do," Olsdal says.

"It's never been a calculated image. It's been who we are as people," he adds without getting into specifics about the band's lifestyle choices. "In the past, we did tend to put the (rock star) lifestyle ahead of the music. Now the workload has gotten bigger, so in order for us to put on the best show possible, you can't just party like it's 1999 anymore."

Given the confessional nature of Black Market Music, as it lyrically brings issues of sex, drugs, violence, relationships and health to the forefront, does that mean Placebo have put the glam-bam-thank-you-ma'am days behind them?

Olsdal leaves the question open-ended. "The music scene is very safe right now. It's the kind of music that doesn't make you think, be it your Britneys or Christinas. It's just pure entertainment.

"It needs a bit of a shakeup. We just want to point people into a bit of an alternative reality."